There’s a lot of card games that offer users flexibility in deck construction and strategy, but a lot of viability boils down to whether a certain strategy (archetype) is supported well enough that it isn’t heavily based on variance or mistakes from the opponent. In this post, I talk about the archetypes I have played with or against in Magic: the Gathering and which ones I want to actively support in Zems.

I picked Magic over all other card games because Magic arguably has the greatest number of possible deck archetypes that have all been proven to work competitively at some point in the game’s history. Some of these I have personal experience with, and I will use my knowledge of what makes these archetypes work to ensure they are properly implemented in Zems.


Rhys the Redeemed

This is the first mechanic I had “fun” with when getting into Magic. Making a mass of tokens and swarming the board is always exciting, and I don’t want to deny other players the ability to play with such an archetype. The color green in Zems is entirely based around board swarm and interactions with creatures, so players entering the game for the first time should understand that this archetype is actively supported.

Examples from the Zems proposed card list:

  • Airok Overseer: This creature comes into play with an Airok Scout creature, so you get 2 creatures when you play this card.
  • Aquaformer: This creature can create a temporary copy of itself that can attack and move (but not use its copy ability) for one turn.
  • Populate: A persist card that lasts for 2 of your turns. It adds a copy of an allied creature in play to your hand at the start of each turn.


I don’t have any ideas for Hero abilities that bolster this archetype, as this strategy is supported by one of the colors of the game itself and doesn’t need to be made ‘better’ by having a Hero that makes the tokens/swarm plan even stronger than it already is.


Rafiq of the Many

Voltron is the strategy of boosting one creature or Hero to insane strength and then using that boosted card to destroy basically everything. In Zems, I want to focus the voltron archetype on the Hero card because we have cards that destroy creatures but there are no cards that have the ability to just destroy Heroes (after all, you lose if your Hero dies). The emphasis on the Hero makes the voltron strategy both exciting and risky since the player is going all-in on the Hero.

This isn’t an archetype I was originally intending to support because Zems Design has previously emphasized the non-Hero cards, but I will be modifying the proposed card list to work with this strategy better. The centerpiece of the voltron strategy is having a Hero that has an ability that tailors to getting ‘suited up’ by the other cards in the deck, so at present I am toying with the following Hero ability idea:

  • This Hero deals double damage during combat and only receives half damage (rounded up) during combat.


What this means is that direct damage burn spells will deal full damage to the Hero, but fighting the Hero is heavily slanted in the Hero’s favor. I think this is well balanced since a player can play multiple creatures to attack and defend with, but the centerpiece of the voltron strategy relies on putting all your eggs into one basket, therefore the card the player is ‘suiting up’ needs to be exceptionally good at being a one-man army.

In terms of the colors we have in the game, Red is the best color for this because we have red creatures that can be played ‘on top of’ the player’s Hero. These creatures, when played on top of the Hero, don’t actually enter play but instead add their stats onto the Hero they are being played on. This means these red creatures can be played as creatures or played as ‘Hero boost’ cards. In addition, Red offers direct burn spells, meaning if the opponent is able to swarm the board with blockers, the Voltron player should be able to burn through them in addition to destroying them with Hero attacks. Note that our burn cards do significantly less damage to Heroes than to creatures, so the ability to burn out the enemy Hero (similar to the Storm archetype in Magic) is largely impractical. We wouldn’t want to support the Storm archetype anyway, because it’s non-interactive and there’s nothing fun about losing to burn spells that you couldn’t stop or slow down – the same reason why Wizards of the Coast isn’t a huge fan of the Storm archetype in Magic: the Gathering, either.

Examples of the Zems proposed card list:

  • Runic Sentient: Can be played on top of the Hero to boost the Hero’s stats, or played as a creature to the field.
  • Rain of Fire: Deals massive damage to all creatures, moderate damage to all shrines, and a little damage to all Heroes. Essentially a wrath, this helps prevent the opponent from clogging the board with creatures and making the game unwinnable for the Voltron player.
  • Bloodlust: A persistent card that lasts for 2 turns that allows your Hero to attack twice each turn.



Supreme Verdict

This archetype runs very few creatures and wants the game to go long. This type of deck will run many wrath effects that destroy or remove all creatures in play, and then once a certain amount of resources is available, it will play a ‘finisher’ card such as a giant or hard-to-deal-with creature and proceed to win the game very quickly. This archetype is generally hard to play because it does not play a lot of things to the board and can often times be run over by masses of creatures attacking early and quickly.

The issue with control is that it is often the antithesis of mutual fun. Often, one player is having fun while the other is not. In games where the control player is winning, the control player is generally the one having fun while the non-control player has nothing left on board and will not be having fun as he tries to rebuild his board state while staring down a massive threat that is going to kill him in a few turns. In games where the control player is losing, the control player is not having fun at all as he or she is being overrun too quickly to stabilize. My goal in supporting this archetype is to make it more interactive and remove the Magic-like elements that define control play – most notably, the idea of ‘doing nothing’. This is a criticism often aimed at control players because destroying everything on the board is generally unfun and leads to both players ‘doing nothing’ for some time, especially when the control player is still looking for his ‘finisher’ card. While I do include creature wraths in Zems (cards that say ‘destroy all creatures in play’), there are no ‘finisher’ type cards in Zems because I find them unfun and possibly even viable for decks that aren’t banking on the control strategy.

Finisher cards in Magic, such as Aetherling, are generally only fun for the player who controls them because they are non-interactive. Killing an Aetherling is nearly impossible once it enters play, and the fact that it can be made unblockable means you will be losing the game in 2 or 3 turns and you can’t do anything about it. This isn’t fun, and we’re not going to have such cards in Zems.

Designing a Hero card that works well for the control archetype is challenging, but here’s the idea I’m currently toying with:

  • Non-creature cards in your hand cost 1 less zem to play. Creature cards in your hand cost 1 more zem to play.


This sort of effect encourages the construction of a deck that runs a lot of non-creature cards (one of the defining aspects of control) while discouraging creature-heavy decks. Originally I had excluded the second part of the ability, but after evaluating the proposed card list, I believe that making non-creature cards cheaper without affecting the creature cards is just too much upside.

Examples of cards that support this archetype:

  • Doomsday: Destroys all creatures in play.
  • Haunted Den: Puts a Spiritkin creature into play under your control when any creature dies on your half of the field.
  • Curse of Passing: Deals damage to the enemy Hero based on the total number of creatures that died that turn.


The primary color that supports the control archetype in Zems is black, but black also runs a reanimator theme, so the control player will almost always have to utilize a second color such as red (for direct damage/burn) to better employ this archetype. It is also possible to utilize a hybrid voltron/control with the proposed card list, which I think will be interesting for many players.


Body Double

Reanimator, also known as graveyard recursion, is a combo-style strategy that in Magic typically centers around ‘cheating’ strong cards into play by first tossing them in the graveyard and bringing them back. One of the problems with combo strategies is that they are largely non-interactive (one player can’t disrupt the other player’s combo easily), especially in a game like Zems where a player cannot respond to the casting of a card but instead must wait until his or her own turn to deal with what the opponent has played. For this reason, I want reanimator in Zems to focus less on cheating insanely strong things into play but instead be based around recursion (creatures coming back after they have been killed) and creatures that benefit from other creatures being in the graveyard.

Here’s what I’m thinking of as a Hero ability that supports the reanimator archetype:

  • Select a creature card in your hand and put it in the graveyard.


This ability basically says if you have a card that benefits from being in the graveyard, you can put it in there without having to play it to the field and then have it die. This works well with several of the other cards in Zems, and the color black is primarily dedicated to supporting this archetype. Some examples:

  • Blight: An environment card that says, “Each creature in your hand costs 1 less for each creature in your graveyard that shares a name with it.”
  • Scavenger: A creature that gets increased stats each time a creature is placed in a graveyard from anywhere.
  • Phantasmal Illusion: A creature that enters play as a copy of any creature in any player’s graveyard.




Also known as direct damage, the burn strategy is about ignoring what your opponent plays and just killing him or her with raw damage cards. I mentioned earlier that this is unfun, but if this archetype isn’t supported then every strategy will have to rely on killing the enemy Hero, which is actually just one of the two win conditions. The other win condition in Zems is to destroy all of the opponent’s shrines, which can be equated to cutting off all enemy resources in an actual war. The idea of winning a war through resource denial is unfun if it is based around taxing the opponent, such making his or her Hero take damage when playing cards, and it is also unfun if it can’t be interacted with (playing spell cards that deal raw damage and can’t be stopped). For these reasons, the burn strategy will be supported in Zems primarily through creatures that have raw damage abilities. This allows the enemy player to interact and potentially disrupt the burn player since creatures can be destroyed.

An idea for a Hero ability for the burn archetype would be:

  • When an enemy shrine is dealt damage, that shrine is dealt an additional 5 damage.


This ability has the advantage of being vague enough to also support non-burn strategies because it doesn’t specify how the damage needs to be dealt. So a creature that is able to physically cross to the opponent’s side of the board and directly attack an enemy shrine will also deal bonus damage from this Hero’s ability, while a creature that has the ability to just damage an enemy shrine also gets a benefit from this.

Examples of cards that support this archetype:

  • Besieger: A creature that has the ability to deal 15 damage to an enemy shrine.
  • Wild Pyromancer: A creature that deals damage to a target enemy creature when an enemy shrine takes damage.
  • Zem Overload: An invocation (spell card) that deals damage to an enemy shrine equal to 3x that shrine’s rate.



Kaalia of the Vast

The last archetype I want to support is the strategy of building around the Hero’s ability. This goes beyond the Hero abilities above, which exist to help bolster a certain archetype I want to support. There will be a good number of Heroes in the game that do not distinctly fit into any of the above archetypes and instead pull elements from each. These decks are generally very unique since they generally do not fit into any existing category from any other game but are very fun to build because of their synergistic nature. People tend to like building decks that revolve around something powerful, such as a strong Hero ability, and I want to push support for these kinds of decks as much as possible.

Since this strategy varies by Hero, I cannot provide any example cards that broadly fit into every single build-around-me strategy. Some of these strategies will be tricky to balance from a design standpoint and may take some extra support to be viable, but that’s the advantage of an online card game – you can tweak the numbers on cards and easily add new ones to bolster game balance and overall player fun.

Wrap Up

I’ve covered virtually every major archetype I plan to support in Zems, with the last archetype being intentionally open-ended to allow for variety over time. There are many other archetypes that exist in various card games, but as of present I do not have plans to support them for various reasons. If you have any ideas of archetypes I have not heard before or any Hero ability ideas, feel free to share them with me in the comments below. Thanks for reading!